|Ellen Taaffe Zwilich:||Celebration for Orchestra (1984)|
|Beethoven:||Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major, Op. 73|
|Brahms:||Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90|
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Horacio Gutierrez, piano
Janna Hymes-Bianchi, conductor
Guest conductor Janna Hymes-Bianchi conducted the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a fine pair of concerts in which pianist Horacio Gutierrez provided the most deeply satisfying musical feature with two masterful performances of Beethoven's "Emperor," Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73. Technically taxing and musically ebullient, the Emperor concerto affords both sparkling brilliance and irresistible lyricism. Gutierrez made the most of both aspects, with rock-solid command of bravura passages and affecting insightfulness in his cantabile playing. Though it is large -- the longest of Beethoven's five piano concertos -- it is still a work of the Classical period, and Hymes-Bianchi brought appropriately classical clarity and scaling to her reading. Rapport between the soloist and the conductor was quite good, though Gutierrez had to push a bit to overcome Hymes-Bianchi's tendency to relax the tempo and linger at the ends of phrases.
Lingering was also a feature in Hymes-Bianchi's interpretation of the Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 by Brahms. I was a little put off by this at first hearing, but in the second performance it seemed she was aiming for clear, transparent sound despite the score's rhythmic complexities and thick orchestrational texture. Where it worked, it worked well, due partly to impressively high-level playing by all sections of the orchestra. But there was a cost in terms of momentum as langourousness impeded the grand sweep of Brahmsian gestures. Against that, the players were very attentive to Hymes-Bianchi's crisp conducting style and moreover responsive to her evident deep passion for the music. Though the approach was unusual, in the end I thought it was musically coherent.
Coherence might be a hard concept to apply to the program's opening work, Celebration for Orchestra (1984) by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Inspired by the idea of bells, the piece seems much longer than its eight minutes, its episodes of highly kinetic excitement interspersed with seemingly arbitrary patches of relatively static sound. Even after the second hearing I had not divined why things were as they were, though this does not necessarily fault the score. The brilliance of the orchestration was easy to get, though, and here too the MSO players achieved notable success.
Although the Sunday audience was a bit sparser than usual, on both occasions there was prolonged enthusiastic applause for soloist, conductor and orchestra. In sum, two very good concerts.
Isthmus, February, 2000
Copyright 2000 Jess Anderson